The Waldo Canyon Fire Experience

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I was one of the thousands who had to evacuate their homes during the Waldo Canyon fire, the worst natural disaster in Colorado Springs history. This is my first hand account of one of the most frightening days of my life.

Submitted: August 29, 2012

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Submitted: August 29, 2012

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THE WALDO CANYON FIRE EXPERIENCE 

by C. Mayhew Gatsby

 

 

The call came one afternoon in June. I was watching the fire relief press conference in my living room, glancing at the words scroll at the bottom of the screen, indicating what communities needed to be evacuated. The shades were drawn to keep the house cool, giving the illusion of being in a cave. The air was tense. My parents had instructed my brothers and I to pack our suitcases the night before, so we would be ready to leave in a moment. The press conference was winding down, so I got up to get some water from the kitchen. As I walked into the kitchen, I thought about the thousands of people this fire has already displaced. As I filled my glass from the faucet, I looked outside. The sky was dark from all the smoke, acidic to breathe in. The sun was a blood red orb in the sky, masked by the smoke. The mountains by my house were one with the sky. Everything looked ominous, desolate, and foreboding. I looked at the mountain, scanning it for any sign of a water-drop helicopter or airplane. As I looked, I saw something. I didn’t believe it at first, so I went out on the deck to get a better look. Fire was dancing on the top of the ridge closest to my house. At that moment, the phone rang. It was the reverse 911, the recorded voice that told us we had to leave the community immediately. The fire was now flaring up, making it’s way down the ridge, straight for our house. It was too close. I could see trees catching on fire, being consumed in moments. I tore my eyes away from the scene, and went to the car, where all my family and dogs were already loaded up. Everyone had bandanas around their mouths to protect them from the acidic, choking smoke. Ash was falling like snowflakes, floating through the air, leaving black and grey streaks on everything it touched. As we left, we were greeted by a string of cars stretching miles long. Everyone was trying to get off the mountain. We sat in traffic, and crawled along at an agonizing pace. Two hours later, we had only come three of the five miles we needed to go to get off the mountain. Traffic was stopped. Slowly, we saw people coming out of their cars, and staring in disbelief at the mountain. Then, a man screamed “Look at the flames!”. We looked back. Flames were flaring up dangerously close to us, shooting high into the air, looking like fingers stretching toward the black sky. At that moment of panic, police opened another route off the mountain, and everyone started moving quickly to get out.

The only place we could think of going was our church. As we drove, I looked back to see the mountain burning. Night was falling as we pulled into our churches parking lot to look out at the mountain our house was on. It looked like something out of a disaster movie. It looked like trees were blowing up, with balls of fire ripping through our community. Friends took us in that night, and the rest of the seven days our community was blocked off to the public. Seven days of sitting in our friend’s house, watching the news and praying. 

 

 

On Sunday night, our community was reopened, but still under voluntary evacuation. That night, my Dad and I drove back to our house. Other than smelling heavily of smoke, our house was fine. Full of prayers and thanks, we drove back to our friend’s house to tell everyone the good news. On Monday, we all drove home to clean and inhabit our house, full of thanks and appreciation for the brave firefighters who fought so courageously to protect the living communities of Colorado Springs. This experience brought us closer together as a family, and brought to our attention that we take a lot of things for granted. Everything we have, cherish, and love could be gone in a moment, and we need to enjoy those things while we have them. Houses less than a mile from our house are burned to the ground. State parks are still closed. Burned trees all around us remind everyone of the struggle and pain our community faced, along with other housing communities in Colorado Springs. I am so thankful and appreciative towards everyone who lent a helping hand, the firefighters who never gave up, and the city of Colorado Springs who did everything they could to help, even having a big benefit concert. To all those who lived through the Waldo Canyon fire, I’m praying for you. And to all those that did not, remember to never take the life you lead for granted, no matter how dreary or dull it may seem. Because it can all be gone in a moment.


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